Yesterday, I received my third identical water bottle from my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, because I gave to the annual fund. Every month, I receive a snail-mailed letter printed on high quality paper thanking me for my monthly donation. Wash U has sent me notes, hats, nick-knacks, and illustrations of campus, and assorted swag since I graduated in 2010, just to express their gratitude for my continued support of the school.
But here’s the problem: I give a monthly gift of $5 for an annual total of $60 to support Wash U, and every piece of mail I receive hacks away at the impact of what I am currently capable of giving. I have called Wash U to ask if I can opt out of the thank you notes, but their automated system makes that impossible to do. If anything, this irks me even more because it’s not even a personal letter typed by a work-study student. What were probably handled by work study students were water bottles 1, 2, and 3, each neatly packed in a box, slapped with a gratitude-sticker, and shipped from St. Louis to Colorado Springs. I majored in Environmental Studies! You gave my donation a carbon footprint!!
Now I have never been involved directly in fundraising. I am not trained in the various strategies and psychologies of giving, and I don’t have numbers in front of me that prove that this kind of gratitude vomit encourages continued and increased gifts. If this were less of a rant, I would probably have taken the time to look for those numbers, but if someone like me who received substantial scholarships to attend Wash U can be turned off by this, what might a non-scholarship student feel? Maybe they would feel the opposite. Maybe they would feel entitled to the unnecessary water bottles, but I doubt it.
Ok, I will admit that part of why I set up the automatic monthly $5 gift was to stop the phone calls requesting donations even if I had already given that year. I was pretty good at dodging them because I recognized the Wash U number (314-935-etc.) but the awkward buzzing from my pocket while I was at work or driving began to grate on me after a while. But though I may sound ungrateful and as though I were bullied into giving, I want you to note that I am happy to give, and that it is important to get into the habit of giving back.
I always get frustrated by my classmates who bitch and moan when their schools ask them for money because they are currently under-employed or their parents paid full tuition for them to go to college. They often credit their families for planning ahead and setting up college funds when they were born, or pat themselves of the back for not blowing their inheritance from their grandparents on bouncy castles and mountain dew and instead put the money towards their very expensive private educations. They were privileged to graduate debt free, and as a result, feel no obligation to the schools that educated and indulged them during a time in their life where they were, frankly, sophists, sophomoric, and occasionally sociopathic.
But this misses the point. If fact it misses several. At most private institutions, tuition only covers a certain percentage of the operating cost through the year. At the school where I currently work as an art teacher, tuition only covers the costs of running the school through a date in February. After that, the endowment and the annual fund kick in, which is made up almost exclusively of donations from alumni, students and parents. Different schools have different sources of income beyond tuition, the endowment, and the annual fund, but those are the big ones. What is important to take from all this is that even “full tuition” paying families receive financial assistance. Yes, even Mr. College Fund was a scholarship kid.
The cost of higher education continues to rise at a 10 year average of 5 percent, but schools with healthy endowments and high rates of participation in the annual fund can afford to increase tuition more slowly and at a pace more consistent with inflation.
But maybe this doesn’t make a difference to Mr. College Fund. He still paid a boatload of money to go to school, and now that he is on his own working and trying to pay rent and his car insurance, while attempting to maintain a shadow of his college lifestyle. He might not feel any sort of debt, nor may he be aware of the benefits he continues to receive as an alumnus of a prestigious institution whose elite reputation signals his own competence for successfully earning admission and subsequent degree.
He may not be aware that annual fund dollars helped fund the education of his lab partner who got him through organic chemistry, or that his favorite professor’s sabbatical to India was subsidized by an anonymous gift. He may be completely clueless that annual fund dollars bought the white wall paint that covered the rude cartoons he and his roommates Sharpied onto the walls the first and last time they bought a bottle of Franjelico. That one time his friend passed out in the bushes outside his dorm, it was annual fund dollars that employed the gardener who rehabilitated the tulips.
I give because I am grateful for the experience I received and to the faceless donors who made it happen. I make a habit of giving so that I may give more when I have more. But right now, my meager donation is being eaten alive by gratuitous gratitude.
You might suggest that I should just increase my gift or give a lump sum that would merit only one thank you note, but I fear that would result in another arms race of solicitations: additional letters, pleas, and oh dear god the phone calls! The thought of all that makes it hard to feel generous.
So here are my requests: Please stop sending me things I could find online if I wanted to see them. I’m tired of the booklets reporting gifts with handy graphics depicting where the money goes. Perhaps this is a symptom of my demographic, but it’s better to make content easy to find or stumble upon, rather than delivered right to my face, where I will ignore it and just watch another Epic Rap Battle of History Video. Don’t send me an email. I won’t read it. Save yourself the postage on return envelopes and save me the recycling.
Instead, tag me, give me a shout out on social media, and contribute to the tiny dopamine addiction that is fed every time that red balloon pops up on facebook, or that orange heart on Instagram. Reach out to me and celebrate my successes with me. Show me that you still care about me as a person and not just my dollars. If this sounds daunting, ask one of your work study students and they can help you out.
But please, for the love of God, stop sending me water bottles.
Sincerely, Addison Green '10